Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Rent Is Robbery

Derelict Just Off LUASIts that time of year again, when a vast majority of students realise one simple thing: we are being ripped off by our landlords. You’ve probably couch surfed for weeks, or ran around trying to open accounts in what ever bank it is that will extend an immediate over draft. Whatever you’ve done, you can be sure you’ll be fucked over once a month for the coming year for a substantial amount of cash. And it feels like plain fucking legalised robbery.

If you are lucky enough to receive the pathetic grant, you’ll realise that with average rents well over €350 and spiralling, the state is leaving you ripped off. The options facing you are living at home and commuting long distances. Skipping classes and working long hours to pay rent. Or simply living in over crowded and cramped gaffs in the ‘student land’ of Rathmines or the like. None of these options are pleasant, and nothing is more distasteful than the accommodation crisis so many of us are forced into because we don’t have access to the cash to by pass it.

One thing is certain, this crisis is artificial, the resources are there, its an issue of how they are being used. We are being held to ransom for higher rents, at the threat of having no where to stay, landlords inflate rents on their own personal whims. Buildings through out the city are left derelict as developers take advantage of the fact that property prices have risen a staggering 166% over the past six years, while your usual bank interest rate is around 6% for investment. The state which has long since defended the interests of these cartels, refuses to move against the derelicts and only a tiny percentage of them are forced to pay the 3% tax the law prescribes.

Why should we expect any different, senior council officials have acted as paid advisors/ facilitators to property hoarders for years. Lest anybody should question the link between house builders and Fianna Fail, the names of Burke, Lawlor and Reilly are clear examples of the corruption involved. Ray Burke received over £1 million from a single builder alone. Liam Lawlor, acting as an extremely well paid agent for various builders, distributed massive amounts of cash to corrupt politicians and council officials in return for the re-zoning of designated tracts of land owned by his paymasters. Paddy Reilly, a former election agent of Bertie Ahern, was involved in the cheap purchase of a large number of premises in central Dublin and renovated them for resale.

The recent revelation that over 20 people named in the Ansbacher fraud were builders and developers should come as no surprise. Neither should the fact that while the state provided 6,133 social houses last year, 62,686 private ones went up. So before its even finalised the state have broken the last bout of social partnership. A telling indictment of who it really benefits. Any attempt to reach similar agreements with authorities ends up in similar farce. Where as UCD have promised to build more student accommodation for years, they haven't bothered and just let the issue slide. Instead they are happy to do land swaps with developers, and sell off land for private apartment complexes instead of build student housing.

The worst part about it all is how the issue is being dealt with by our representatives. They seem only happy you just redirect us to the same websites we’ve been scouring for gaffs already. Attempts to even tackle the issue politically consist of tokenistic stunts at the usual time and place every year, expect tents, posturing and not a whole lot more. These is no real attempt made to challenge the monopolistic behaviour of the landlords, no attempt to link in the fact that more than just students are being fucked over, but anyone who can’t afford housing at extortionate rates is.

Last summer a group of young people squatted one of these derelicts, making a home and a social centre in the process of renovating it. The landlord didn’t even notice, he had been in South Africa for over a decade, and had forgotten about this four story Georgian building on Leeson St. This happens all over the city: the next time you take the LUAS, have a gawk and see the derelicts fly pat, left abandoned until property prices shoot up. Of course these kids were thrown out by the cops.

The state is there to protect the hoarders, introducing the 2002 Anti-Trespass Act to move travellers off illegal halting sites, but potentially directing it against squatters as well. The core of the issue is how our society sees property, at the moment it is an individual thing. Housing ties into everything else, it is one of those ridiculous situations that our rulers persist in forcing on us. The notion that one class of people have a right to deprive another of a home, for the sake of making money playing the property market. Instead, like education, housing should be treated as social thing not something to be exploited for the private gain of an enriched few.

Once my own landlord demanded bank receipts off us because he has so much money coming into his accounts from various houses he was failing to keep track of it, and this was in a house where sellotape was used on the windows to keep the dampness out. We are being ripped off and its about bloody time we did something about it.

Usually, we seek the easiest option. When it comes to housing the easiest option is working more hours, or getting into more debt. Individual acts that sort the problems temporarily for ourselves, but allow them, to fester and worsen. We are increasingly being pushed to a situation where these individual solutions are exerting an unprecedented pressure on us. When that happens, we need to realise the political problem that lies at the root of this housing crisis. To be blunt, property is theft and nothing is more outrageous than leaving buildings dormant around the city to make a quick kill on the market when others go homeless.

If we want to do something about the housing crisis facing us, we need to start facing it head on. Highlighting the ridiculous nature of it, how buildings lie dormant to jack up rent prices, who’s doing this and what we can do to sort it. In three words. Squat the lot.

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